October OnDeck Newsletters

If you missed the October issues of OnDeck, you can check out both our soccer and baseball issues here. Dr. Alan Goldberg’s terrific article, “Causes of Burnout” is one of several great reads.

OnDeck Newsletter goes out later today

You can sign up here to receive our popular OnDeck Newsletter each month. Enjoy articles for coaches, parents and league administrators as well as offers from great youth sports-related companies.

Any excuse to win

I recently received an email from a parent who claimed that something we’d written in our blog had given ammunition to her son’s coaches who not giving enough playing time to very young players. She wrote:

I know your blog is supposed to help coaches and parents deal with little league concerns. I am hoping you actually do read this. Recently our coaches used one of your blogs to bully our parents into keeping their mouths shut about how the organization is being run. Our coaches for 5 & 6 and 7 & 8 think that only their kids and their friends’ kids should get to play in the games. They use the excuse they are playing to WIN and they used your blog as a tool saying our kids need to practice to earn time in the game. They all have earned time, as they have said. Some are even good, but the point is it’s little league where they have come to learn the game and to have fun. I just thought you should know that your blog is being used as a bully tool.  They obviously missed the article you wrote about winning or being a star, when is it okay to start playing the better players more often than the others. I definitely don’t think that starts at this age. If you read this far I really appreciate it, thank you for your time.

I replied and asked which blog posting she was referring to.

Thank you for your reply. It has to do with parents and playing time. The article was well written and would not necessarily say anything wrong. The problem is, our coaches have decided to not play most of these two younger teams and think it’s okay to do so, just for the sake of winning. They didn’t even start out trying to coach the ones who had never played because they never planned on playing them. When they used your article we all took it as a slap in the face. My son was out there months before most of the kids they actually have let on the field and is actually good at some positions.  He tries real hard and is at every practice but barely gets to play, then he sees the coaches kids and their friend’s kids play the entire game he feels he must “suck” (his own words).  Many of these children have just started and just want a chance to learn the game. Many coaches today have forgotten what Little League is really for. It’s not all about winning, It’s supposed to be about building these children up, not breaking them down. I’m just hoping my son doesn’t end up hating the sport after this experience. Thank you for your response.

I responded: Thanks again for getting back to me. If what you’re saying is accurate, aren’t these folks in violation of league rules? There is a mandatory play rule for Little League, even up to the highest levels. Certainly there would be a rule for minimum play for ages 5-8.
Here are links to three articles which I think counter any thoughts that we condone their behavior:
The article they chose (Parents and Playing Time) was geared more towards high school-age athletes, not little kids.

Unfortunately, the response to the first parents to complain was that the rules say they only have to play them one play. So the rules are stacked against the kids there. After watching our son’s self-esteem suffer for so long I finally confronted it. That’s when I found out from my husband that he said he thought he “sucked” and I knew we had made the right decision to get him out of there. He is relieved, and doesn’t want to talk about whether to try to play somewhere else next year right now. He’s going to focus on the upcoming basketball season at the church (where they haven’t ruined it yet). I wouldn’t mind at all if you use my comments. Maybe it will help others across the country dealing with this same situation. Thank you again for your time.

The theme of the Parents and Playing Time article was that eventually we have to let our children succeed or fail on their own, and that sports is a terrific teacher of these life lessons. We need to help them understand that hard work and effort are what get you what you want in life. Sometimes no matter how hard we try, we may still fall, and we must get up and go on – maybe to something different. The article encouraged young athletes to have discussions with their coaches if they felt they deserved more playing time, not depend on mom and dad to use their influence and come to the rescue. But clearly, no one would suggest that five, six, seven or eight years-old need to be able to stand up for themselves or be taught these tough life lessons at such an early age. At least we thought no one would suggest that.

Congratulations to the World Champion Giants

Winning seven consecutive games since falling behind 3-1 to the Cardinals in the NLCS to claim their second World Series in three years, these Giants looked impressive. Hear the calls of the final out from TV and radio, home and away, here.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge!”

By Tom Turner, Director of Coaching, OYSAN

While Einstein definitely wasn’t talking about soccer when he uttered those words, he certainly could have been hinting at the value of a learning environment that emphasized creativity and problem solving over rote learning. At the World Cup, USA-99, it was note worthy that the most gifted and creative players were from countries with the least organized youth soccer environments: Ghana, Nigeria and Brazil. The fact that this trend is evident on the men’s side has always be en taken for granted, but the continuation of the phenomenon into women’s soccer merits notice and further exploration. If the women from these countries can emulate their male counterparts by emerging from relative obscurity and arrive on the world’s soccer stage with subtle ball control and original ideas, what is it about their environment that we must attend to? It is perhaps significant that players from these countries almost always develop their craft in multiple age group games over many years on sandlots and in alleyways, and generally without the “benefits” of structured coaching programs.

Coaching players to be subtle and creative is perhaps the most compelling and complicated challengefacing the Western soccer world today and, as fewer and fewer creative players emerge from the naturaland traditional route of unorganized play, the burden of “manufacturing” gifted and talented players has been assumed by national coaching organizations through t he implementation of systematic training programs.

Sadly, the majority of these programs, including our own in the United States, are based on the Anglo-German Technical Model and the return has been less than spectacular for the time, effort and resourcescommitted over the past 30 years. To appreciate why gifted players are more likely to emerge fromunstructured environments, it is important to look at the nature of learning and the nature of unstructured settings. This article explores the elements of learning as they relate to player development and the benefits of a less-organized coaching environment.

The Technical Model

Thinking back to junior and senior high school physical education classes will provide a picture of the nature and failings of the Technical Model as it is still presented and practiced today. In those classes, the basic technical skills of the sport being taught were always presented at the beginning of each unit. This technical practice would always precede the games, which would take up the latter part of the unit once the skills had, theoretically, been taught and learned.

Each year, the unit would begin with the same basic skills and, generally, the same kids who performed well or poorly the year before repeated their successes or failings. Students would stand in lines waiting their turn to practice the techniques and the teacher would offer feedback on how closely the demonstrated performance matched the textbook ideal. There were no opponents present during these exercises. Skill tests, if they were given, would establish criteria for grading, such as dribbling around a set of cones within a given number of seconds, or shooting a certain percentage of free throws. When the games began, the large number of students on each team made it difficult for the weaker-skilled players to participate with any success and the teacher spent the class time organizing the rotation of teams, keeping score, order and cheerleading. More damaging, once the drills had been practiced, information on how to actually play the games was rarely provided to the participants; those players who lacked the skills to succeed in the drill activities were now destined to fail in the game activities because they also lacked understanding

So, why do years of free play experience at the younger ages seem to be more advantageous in cultivating competence and creativity? In the next installment will be some observations about young players growing up in a street soccer environment.

(Part two of this article to come in next month’s issue).

Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Boys ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching. He can be reached at coaching@oysan.org.

Coaches allow five concussions in Pop Warner rout

The score was out of hand – well beyond the Pop Warner mercy rule. Yet the coaches continued playing, the referees and league officials in the stands did nothing to stop it. And the result was five 12 year-old children on the losing side with concussions. Do you feel the coaches did anything wrong, or as the winning coach said, is this not a “Hallmark moment”?

Make baseball practice fun and effective

By Olan Suddeth

Baseball practice can be, by definition, a chore. In order to perfect game-related skills, players must perform repetitive, sometimes mundane tasks in a quest to build muscle memory and skill. Even so, beware of making practice boring – players who dread practice won’t get as much (or anything) out of it, will distract the rest of the team, and may even quit.

Don’t get me wrong – I firmly believe in organzied, disciplined practices. Troublemakers should be dealth with swiftly; “running laps ’till their tongues hang out” is a great solution for many a problem. I am not at all above assigning pushups for stubborn cases.

But if you find yourself spending more time handing out laps than teaching the proper way to lay down a bunt, ask yourself why. Do you have twelve guys standing around while you hit one grounder at a time? Are the only players getting action the pitcher, catcher, and batter? Does your entire outfield want to sit in the grass, and do they seem to be influencing your third baseman to follow suit? If so, you may have a problem.

Come to practice with a plan. Before you practice, identify the areas you’d like your team to work on. If you don’t have any idea what’s going to happen in practice, chances are, the results won’t be good… at the very least, you’ll waste a lot of valuable time.

Stations are the gospel of practice. You should spend very little time with the entire team working on the same thing. Instead, break your team into three or four groups. Have one work on hitting, one work on ground balls, another work on relay throws, etc. After fifteen or twety minutes, rotate the groups. This ensures that each player gets many more repititions than they ever would have otherwise, and it breaks the monotony – by the time the player is used to doing one station, it’s time to move to the next one. If you don’t have enough coaches for this, ask for parental help – or conscript them from the stands, if need be. Tell them what to do, then go to the next station before they can protest!

Be inventive, and reward your players. Turn drill into contests – give points to different teams within your squad, and watch the intensity level rise. Raise the stakes by offering a small reward; a stick of sugarless gum will motivate a player like you wouldn’t believe. Consider handing out helmet stickers (think of the tomahawaks that the Florida State Seminoles get on their football helmets) for outstanding performers.

Don’t underestimate the power of encouragement. Keep in mind that, as a little league coach, you are one of the most influential people your players will ever have in their lives. Don’t fall into the trap of always criticizing failures without recognizing achievement and effort. If a kid is giving something his all, recognize that fact, even if he is failing. Support him, and he may amaze you – and himself – with what he can do.

Olan Suddeth is a Little League coach in the Birmingham, Alabama area. His website, Youth Baseball Info, offers free articles, drills, and tips for youth baseball coaches, parents and fans.

NSPCC – Bullying Video

We’ve discovered a tremendous organization in the UK, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, (NSPCC). They’ve produced a series of brief videos – Keeping Children Safe in Sports – which are compelling and educational, and with which every league, club and youth sports organization should become familiar. The first we will offer, on the subject of bullying, dramatizes examples of how bullying may occur in your organization, and procedures and policies to put in place to prevent and address potential issues. Watch video.

The meaning of the cup

Rick Reilly provides us with another touching story. This one, of former LA Kings player and current President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille, and his ailing mom and her desire to see the Stanley Cup.

A laugh for the weekend

After the tone of the last few posts we thought we’d change the pace and send you into the weekend with a chuckle from our favorite sports cartoon, In the Bleachers, by Steve Moore: